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Reputation v. Character: Evaluating the effects of reputation on the life of a 'Wicked Earl'

Updated: Nov 13, 2021

On Saturday 9th Oct 2021, 1PM (EST) I'll be giving a zoom talk jointly sponsored by the Bertrand Russell Society and the George Santayana Society looking at the effect of Frank Russell's reputation as 'a profligate roué' on his life, career and legacy:

“An idle and most false imposition”:

A discussion around Frank Russell’s Reputation

Frank Russell’s misdemeanours were notorious in his own lifetime and have subsequently been recalled at intervals by memoirists and biographers (myself included). Such a circumstance is not without its consequences. Frank himself recognised this when he concluded his own memoirs, My Life and Adventures (1923), with the reflection: ‘It is my misfortune and not my fault that practically the whole of my life has been chronicled in detail in the daily press’ giving the public ‘a curiously distorted view of one’s character and tastes.’ But is he right to grumble? How objectively has his reputation been treated? And what exactly have been the direct consequences (if any) of his personal reputation on his life, career and legacy?

This joint meeting of the Bertrand Russell and Santayana Societies will be split into two parts; each part will consist of a presentation by Ruth followed by a response from a representative of each society and then an open discussion.

In part one we’ll consider Frank’s reputation in his lifetime. We’ll examine the extent to which Frank’s self-determined moral outlook and his choices as a young man contributed to the events on which his reputation hung and shaped his career thereafter. We’ll also consider what Frank was able to achieve in spite (or perhaps because) of his reputation. Tim Madigan, Past President of the Bertrand Russell Society, will be the respondent.

In part two we’ll review what has become of Frank’s reputation since his death. The discussion will focus on two juxtaposing depictions of Frank which have been used extensively by commentators – Santayana’s two chapters in Persons and Places (1945, 1953 & 1986) and Elizabeth von Arnim’s semi-autobiographical novel Vera (1921) – to endeavour to draw some firm conclusions as to what Frank’s legacy really should be. Martin Coleman, Editor of the Santayana Edition, Indiana University Press, will be the respondent.

An open discussion will following the presentation.

For more information, contact Ruth directly (see contacts page), or keep an eye out on the websites of the Santayana Society and the Bertrand Russell Society.

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